NASA’s ‘Hubble Hugger’ and Science Chief John Grunsfeld To Retire

In this March 2002 image, John Grunsfeld, former astronaut and associate administrator of NASA's Science Mission Directorate, is shown in space shuttle Columbia's cargo bay during the STS-109 Hubble servicing mission.  Credits: NASA
In this March 2002 image, John Grunsfeld, former astronaut and associate administrator of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, is shown in space shuttle Columbia’s cargo bay during the STS-109 Hubble servicing mission. Credits: NASA

Five time space shuttle astronaut and current NASA science chief John Grunsfeld – best known as the ‘Hubble Hugger’ for three critical and dramatic servicing and upgrade missions to the iconic Hubble Space Telescope – his decided to retire from the space agency he faithfully served since being selected as an astronaut in 1992.

“John Grunsfeld will retire from NASA April 30, capping nearly four decades of science and exploration with the agency. His tenure includes serving as astronaut, chief scientist, and head of NASA’s Earth and space science activities,” NASA announced.

Indeed, Grunsfeld was the last human to touch the telescope during the STS-125 servicing mission in 2009 when he served as lead spacewalker.

The STS-125 mission successfully upgraded the observatory to the apex of its scientific capability during five spacewalks by four astronauts and extended the life of the aging telescope for many years. Hubble remains fully operable to this day!

In April 2015, Hubble celebrated 25 years of operations, vastly outperforming its planned lifetime of 15 years.

“Hubble has given us 25 years of great service. Hopefully we’ll get another 5 to 10 years of unraveling the mysteries of the Universe,” Grunsfeld told me during a recent interview at NASA Goddard.

Astronaut John Grunsfeld performs work on the Hubble Space Telescope on the first of five STS-125 spacewalks. Credit: NASA
Astronaut John Grunsfeld performs work on the Hubble Space Telescope on the first of five STS-125 spacewalks. Credit: NASA

In his most recent assignment, Grunsfeld was NASA’s Science Chief working as the Associate Administrator for the Science Mission Directorate (SMD) at NASA Headquarters in Washington, D.C. since January 2012.

“John leaves an extraordinary legacy of success that will forever remain a part of our nation’s historic science and exploration achievements,” said NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden, in a statement.

“Widely known as the ‘Hubble Repairman,’ it was an honor to serve with him in the astronaut corps and watch him lead NASA’s science portfolio during a time of remarkable discovery. These are discoveries that have rewritten science textbooks and inspired the next generation of space explorers.”

Grunsfeld was inducted into the U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame in 2015.

He received his PhD in physics in 1988 and conducted extensive research as an astronomer in the fields of x-ray and gamma ray astronomy and high-energy cosmic ray studies.

Crew of STS-125, including John Grunsfeld, center, during walkout to Astrovan ahead of launch on May 11, 2009, from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida on final mission to service NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com
Crew of STS-125, including John Grunsfeld, center, during walkout to Astrovan ahead of launch on May 11, 2009, from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida on final mission to service NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

NASA said that Grunsfeld’s deputy Geoff Yoder will serve as SMD acting associate administrator until a successor is named.

“After exploring strange new worlds and seeking out new life in the universe, I can now boldly go where I’ve rarely gone before – home,” said Grunsfeld.

“I’m grateful to have had this extraordinary opportunity to lead NASA science, and know that the agency is well-positioned to make the next giant leaps in exploration and discovery.”

During his tenure as science chief leading NASA’s Science Mission Directorate Grunsfeld was responsible for managing over 100 NASA science missions including the Mars orbital and surface assets like the Curiosity and Opportunity Mars rovers, New Horizons at Pluto, MESSENGER, upcoming Mars 2020 rover and OSIRIS-Rex as well as Earth science missions like the Deep Space Climate Observatory, Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2, and Global Precipitation Measurement spacecraft -which resulted numerous groundbreaking science, findings and discoveries.

NASA Associate Administrator for the Science Mission Directorate John Grunsfeld, left, New Horizons Principal Investigator Alan Stern of Southwest Research Institute (SwRI), Boulder, CO, second from left, New Horizons Mission Operations Manager Alice Bowman of the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL), second from right, and New Horizons Project Manager Glen Fountain of APL, right, are seen at the conclusion of a press conference after the team received confirmation from the spacecraft that it has completed the flyby of Pluto, Tuesday, July 14, 2015 at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) in Laurel, Maryland. Credit:  Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
NASA Associate Administrator for the Science Mission Directorate John Grunsfeld, left, New Horizons Principal Investigator Alan Stern of Southwest Research Institute (SwRI), Boulder, CO, second from left, New Horizons Mission Operations Manager Alice Bowman of the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL), second from right, and New Horizons Project Manager Glen Fountain of APL, right, are seen at the conclusion of a press conference after the team received confirmation from the spacecraft that it has completed the flyby of Pluto, Tuesday, July 14, 2015 at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) in Laurel, Maryland. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

Dr. Grunsfeld is a veteran of five spaceflights: STS-67 (1995), STS-81 (1997), STS-103 (1999) STS-109 (2002) and STS-125 (2009), during which time he logged more than 58 days in space, including 58 hours and 30 minutes of EVA in 8 spacewalks.

He briefly retired from NASA in December 2009 to serve as Deputy Director of the Space Telescope Science Institute, in Baltimore, Maryland. He then returned to NASA in January 2012 to serve as SMD head for over four years until now.

NASA Science chief and astronaut John Grunsfeld discusses James Webb Space Telescope project at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland.  Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
NASA Science chief and astronaut John Grunsfeld discusses James Webb Space Telescope project at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

From his NASA bio, here is a summary of John Grunsfeld’s space flight experience during five shuttle flights:

STS-67/Astro-2 Endeavour (March 2 to March 18, 1995) launched from Kennedy Space Center, Florida, and landed at Edwards Air Force Base, California. It was the second flight of the Astro observatory, a unique complement of three ultraviolet telescopes. During this record-setting 16-day mission, the crew conducted observations around the clock to study the far ultraviolet spectra of faint astronomical objects and the polarization of ultraviolet light coming from hot stars and distant galaxies. Mission duration was 399 hours and 9 minutes.

STS-81 Atlantis (January 12 to January 22, 1997) was a 10-day mission, the fifth to dock with Russia’s Space Station Mir and the second to exchange U.S. astronauts. The mission also carried the Spacehab double module, providing additional middeck locker space for secondary experiments. In 5 days of docked operations, more than 3 tons of food, water, experiment equipment and samples were moved back and forth between the two spacecraft. Grunsfeld served as the flight engineer on this flight. Following 160 orbits of the Earth, the STS-81 mission concluded with a landing on Kennedy Space Center’s Runway 33, ending a 3.9-million-mile journey. Mission duration was 244 hours and 56 minutes.

STS-103 Discovery (December 19 to December 27, 1999) was an 8-day mission, during which the crew successfully installed new gyroscopes and scientific instruments and upgraded systems on the Hubble Space Telescope (HST). Enhancing HST scientific capabilities required three spacewalks (EVAs). Grunsfeld performed two spacewalks, totaling 16 hours and 23 minutes. The STS-103 mission was accomplished in 120 Earth orbits, traveling 3.2 million miles in 191 hours and 11 minutes.

STS-109 Columbia (March 1 to March 12, 2002) was the fourth HST servicing mission. The crew of STS-109 successfully upgraded the HST, installing a new digital camera, a cooling system for the infrared camera, new solar arrays and a new power system. HST servicing and upgrades were accomplished by four crewmembers during a total of five EVAs in 5 consecutive days. As Payload Commander on STS-109, Grunsfeld was in charge of the spacewalking activities and the Hubble payload. He also performed three spacewalks totaling 21 hours and 9 minutes, including the installation of the new Power Control Unit. STS-109 orbited the Earth 165 times and covered 3.9 million miles in over 262 hours.

STS-125 Atlantis (May 11 to May 24, 2009) was the fifth and final Hubble servicing mission. After 19 years in orbit, the telescope received a major renovation that included the installation of a new wide-field camera, a new ultraviolet telescope, new batteries, a guidance sensor, gyroscopes and other repairs. Grunsfeld served as the lead spacewalker in charge of the spacewalking and Hubble activities. He performed three of the five spacewalks on this flight, totaling 20 hours and 58 minutes. For the first time while in orbit, two scientific instruments were surgically repaired in the telescope. The STS-125 mission was accomplished in 12 days, 21 hours, 37 minutes and 09 seconds, traveling 5,276,000 miles in 197 Earth orbits.

Launch of Space Shuttle Atlantis on STS-125 and the final servicing mission to the Hubble Space Telescope on May 11, 2009 from Launch Complex-39A at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com
Launch of Space Shuttle Atlantis on STS-125 and the final servicing mission to the Hubble Space Telescope on May 11, 2009 from Launch Complex-39A at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and planetary science and human spaceflight news.

Ken Kremer

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Learn more about Hubble, NASA Mars rovers, Orion, SLS, ISS, Orbital ATK, ULA, SpaceX, Boeing, Space Taxis, NASA missions and more at Ken’s upcoming outreach events:

Apr 9/10: “NASA and the Road to Mars Human Spaceflight programs” and “Curiosity explores Mars” at NEAF (NorthEast Astronomy and Space Forum), 9 AM to 5 PM, Suffern, NY, Rockland Community College and Rockland Astronomy Club – http://rocklandastronomy.com/neaf.html

Apr 12: Hosting Dr. Jim Green, NASA, Director Planetary Science, for a Planetary sciences talk about “Ceres, Pluto and Planet X” at Princeton University; 7:30 PM, Amateur Astronomers Assoc of Princeton, Peyton Hall, Princeton, NJ – http://www.princetonastronomy.org/

Apr 17: “NASA and the Road to Mars Human Spaceflight programs”- 1:30 PM at Washington Crossing State Park, Nature Center, Titusville, NJ – http://www.state.nj.us/dep/parksandforests/parks/washcros.html

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden and science chief Astronaut John Grunsfeld discuss NASA’s human spaceflight initiatives backdropped by the service module for the Orion crew capsule being assembled at the Kennedy Space Center. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
NASA Administrator Charles Bolden and science chief Astronaut John Grunsfeld discuss NASA’s human spaceflight initiatives backdropped by the service module for the Orion crew capsule being assembled at the Kennedy Space Center. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

Hubble Makes ‘Pillars Of Creation’ Look Better Than Ever

When you look at that image on the right, make sure to thank the STS-125 crew. And all the people who defended the idea of sending one last repair mission to the Hubble Space Telescope before the space shuttle was decommissioned.

That’s because the famous “Pillars of Creation” image taken in 1995 by Hubble just got a huge upgrade. Using a camera the astronauts installed in 2009, astronomers recently revisited the iconic image and got far more detail this time around. And please, do yourself a favor to click through and see the ethereal infrared image Hubble got at the same time.

Embedded in these Eagle Nebula towers, which are sometimes called elephant trunks, are stars under creation. And in a short span of 20 years, you can see how the stars are slowly blowing the pillars apart. This is leading some press officials to call the structures “pillars of destruction.” And astronomers can chart how everything is changing over time.

“I’m impressed by how transitory these structures are. They are actively being ablated away before our very eyes,” stated Paul Scowen of Arizona State University in Tempe, one of the astronomers who led the 1995 observations.

The Eagle Nebula's pillars of creation captured in infrared light with the Hubble Space Telescope, in 2015. Credit: NASA, ESA/Hubble and the Hubble Heritage Team
The Eagle Nebula’s pillars of creation captured in infrared light with the Hubble Space Telescope, in 2015. Credit: NASA, ESA/Hubble and the Hubble Heritage Team

“These pillars represent a very dynamic, active process,” Scowen added. “The gas is not being passively heated up and gently wafting away into space. The gaseous pillars are actually getting ionized (a process by which electrons are stripped off of atoms) and heated up by radiation from the massive stars. And then they are being eroded by the stars’ strong winds (barrage of charged particles), which are sandblasting away the tops of these pillars.”

One large find from the two images showed a “narrow jet-like feature” that could have been emanating from a brand-new star. It’s been getting larger over the past two decades, moving more than 60 billion miles further into the universe.

The new images were presented at the American Astronomical Society meeting in Seattle this week.

Sources: Hubble European Space Agency Information Centre and Space Telescope Science Institute

NASA’s First Space-Tweeting Astronaut And ‘Big Bang Theory’ Guest Flies To A New Position

The first astronaut who tweeted from space is leaving NASA, the agency announced yesterday. Mike Massimino (best known to his 1.29 million followers as @astro_mike) — and also one of several astronauts to repair the Hubble Space Telescope — will now bring his skills to a full-time position with Columbia University in New York.

“Mike embraced the opportunity to engage with the public in new ways and set the stage for more space explorers to be able to share their mission experience directly with people around the globe,” stated Bob Behnken, NASA’s chief of the astronaut office at Johnson Space Center in Houston.

“We wish him well in his new role fostering the dreams and innovations of students just beginning their career paths,” he said.

Massimino found time to embrace Twitter, then a new technology to NASA, during the busy STS-125 mission that was the final repair mission for the Hubble Space Telescope in 2009. Here’s the first tweet from space:

Following his social media activities in space, which received a great deal of publicity at the time, Massimino appeared several times on the CBS comedy “The Big Bang Theory” as a fictionalized version of himself.  He also was prominently featured in the IMAX film Hubble 3D in 2010, which in part featured the spacewalking missions to repair the iconic NASA telescope.

Lately, Massimino’s outreach activities also included hosting the regular “ISS Mailbag” YouTube segment with fellow astronaut Don Pettit (@astro_pettit).

While the astronaut has not yet made a statement on Twitter, NASA paid tribute to him on its own Twitter account, as did others:

Ed Weiler – NASA Science Leader and Hubble Chief Scientist Retires

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Ed Weiler, NASA’s Science leader in charge of the robotic missions that continually produce scientific breakthroughs that amaze all humanity and longtime Chief Scientist on the Hubble Space Telescope that has completely revolutionized our understanding of humanities place in the Universe, retired today (Sept. 30) from NASA after a distinguished career spanning almost 33 years.

Weiler is departing NASA during what has been dubbed the “Year of Space Science”- the best year ever for NASA Space Science research. The two most recent successes are the launch of JUNO to Jupiter and the twin GRAIL probes to the Moon. Blastoff of the Curiosity Mars Science Laboratory rover is slated for late November 2011.

Weiler’s official title is associate administrator of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate (SMD) at agency Headquarters in Washington, DC. In that capacity he was responsible for overseeing NASA’s science and research programs in Earth science, heliophysics, planetary science and astrophysics.

Weiler was appointed to lead SMD in 2008. He holds this position now for the second time after serving in between as Director of NASA Goddard Spaceflight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland from 2004 to 2008. His earlier stint as associate administrator lasted from 1998 to 2004 for what was then called the Space Science Enterprise.

Dr. Ed Weiler, NASA Associate Administrator for the Science Mission Directorate. Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls

Probably the job he loved best was as Chief Scientist of the Hubble Space Telescope from 1979 to 1998, until he was promoted to the top rung of NASA management.

I was very lucky to meet and chat with Ed Weiler while I was covering the final space shuttle flight – STS-125 – to repair and upgrade Hubble. STS 125 blasted off in May 2009 and accomplished every single objective to catapult Hubble to the apex of its capabilities.

At the recent launch of the twin GRAIL lunar mapping probes, I spoke with Weiler about a wide range of NASA missions. Watch for my upcoming interview with Ed.

Weiler is very hopeful that Hubble will continue to operate for several more years at least.

NASA issued this statement from NASA Administrator Charles Bolden, “Ed leaves an enduring legacy of pride and success that forever will remain a part of NASA’s science history. His leadership helped inspire the public with each new scientific discovery, and enabled NASA to move forward with new capabilities to continue to explore our solar system and beyond.”

The successes under Weiler’s leadership include NASA’s great observatory missions, unprecedented advances in Earth science and extensive exploration of Mars and other planets in our solar system. These advances have rewritten science textbooks and earned enormous support for NASA’s science programs from the general public.

The Mars rovers Spirit and Opportunity are just one example of the science missions approved and funded during Weiler’s tenure.

Weiler’s leadership has been instrumental in securing continued support and funding for NASA Space Science from Congress and the White House. He has received numerous prestigious awards including the NASA Distinguished Service Medal and several Presidential Rank Awards for Meritorious Executive and Distinguished Executive.

Ed Weiler remembers Spirit at JPL symposium. Credit: AP